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Drug Abuse Message to the Congress.

August 02, 1977

To the Congress of the United States:

Drug abuse continues to be a serious social problem in America. The lives of hundreds of thousands of people are blighted by their dependence on drugs. Many communities remain unsafe because of drug-related street crime, and the immense profits made in the illicit drug traffic help support the power and influence of organized crime. Among young American men aged 18-24 years, drugs are the fourth most common cause of death: only automobile accidents, homicides, and suicides rank higher. The estimated cost of drug abuse in America exceeds 15 billion dollars each year. Among some minority groups, the incidence of addiction and the harm it inflicts are disproportionate.

Drug addiction, which in recent years was viewed as a problem peculiar to America, now affects people throughout the world. We can no longer concern ourselves merely with keeping illicit drugs out of the United States, but we must join with other nations to deal with this global problem by combating drug traffickers and sharing our knowledge and resources to help treat addiction wherever it occurs. We must set realistic objectives, giving our foremost attention domestically to those drugs that pose the greatest threat to health, and to our ability to reduce crime. Since heroin, barbiturates and other sedative/hypnotic drugs account for 90 percent of the deaths from drug abuse, they should receive our principal emphasis.

My goals are to discourage all drug abuse in America--and also discourage the excessive use of alcohol and tobacco-and to reduce to a minimum the harm drug abuse causes when it does occur. To achieve these goals with the resources available, effective management and direction are essential. Because the federal effort is currently divided among more than twenty different, and often competing, agencies, I have directed my staff to coordinate Federal action and to formulate a comprehensive national policy. This will end the long-standing fragmentation among our international programs, drug law enforcement, treatment and rehabilitation, prevention, and regulatory activities. I will also seek the counsel and active involvement of members of the Cabinet and heads of major independent agencies on all drug abuse policy questions, through a revitalized Strategy Council on Drug Abuse. My staff will examine the functions of the various agencies involved in this field and will recommend to me whatever organizational changes are appropriate.


For certain drugs originally derived from plant sources outside the United States, especially heroin and cocaine, diplomatic agreements against cultivation and trafficking are indispensable. Turkey--once virtually the sole source of heroin supply in this country--is now gone from the illicit market as the result of such an agreement. The enormous profits generated by the illicit drug traffic distort the economies of many smaller countries, aggravating inflation and draining tax revenues; they also engender corruption and corrode political stability. We must work closely with other governments to assist them in their efforts to eradicate the cultivation of drugs, and to develop legitimate alternative sources of income for the impoverished farmers who have for generations raised and sold crops such as opium.

We have made significant progress in the last few months. In February, I discussed with President Lopez-Portillo of Mexico my deep concern about the illegal cultivation of opium in his country. Under his strong leadership, the eradication program has been intensified and is producing dramatic results, significantly reducing the availability of heroin in many American cities. In addition, President Ne Win of Burma and Prime Minister Thanin of Thailand have shown a resolute determination to control drug cultivation and trafficking in their countries. Most recently I have received strong assurances from President Lopez-Michelsen of Colombia that he plans to give the problem of drug trafficking his highest priority. We are establishing a commission made up of government officials from our two countries to coordinate a stepped up effort to deal with the major international trafficking of cocaine and marijuana between our two countries, and the devastating economic impact of that traffic.

As a result of these efforts and those of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the purity of heroin in our country has dropped in the last six months to 4.9%, the lowest level in 4 years.

There is, however, more that we can do:

(1) I am directing the Secretary of State to give greater emphasis to the international narcotics control program and to reiterate to foreign governments our strong desire to curtail production of, and traffic in, illicit drugs.

(2) To this end, I am directing the Administrator of the Agency for International Development to include such measures as crop and income substitution in its development programs for those countries where drugs are grown illicitly. I expect the Secretary of State to continue to call on other agencies and departments, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Customs Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, to assist in the international narcotics control program according to the special expertise of each.

(3) I am directing the intelligence community to emphasize the collection and analysis of information relating to international drug trafficking.

(4) I strongly support the work of the United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control (UNFDAC), the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the International Narcotics Control Board, the World Health Organization, and other organizations working within the framework of the United Nations in their efforts to help drug-producing countries find alternate crops, improve drug control measures, and make treatment resources available.

(5) I am instructing the United States representatives to the loan committees of the Regional Development Banks and other international financial institutions to use their votes and influence to encourage well designed rural development and income substitution projects in countries which now produce dangerous drugs, and to ensure that assistance is not used to foster the growth of crops like opium and coca.

(6) Because of the need to improve international controls over dangerous drugs which have legitimate medical uses, like barbiturates and amphetamines, I urge the Congress to adopt legislation implementing the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and I urge the Senate to ratify this treaty promptly.

( 7 ) In my communications with foreign leaders, I will emphasize international cooperation among drug law enforcement agencies, so that intelligence and technical expertise can be shared. I will encourage them to send law enforcement officials to work with us to stop the flow of drugs through other countries. This kind of cooperation has already begun in Bangkok among French, German, British, Dutch, American and Thai officials.

I will, in addition, promote the international sharing of knowledge and expertise in the treatment of drug abuse. We will make a special effort to share our experience, especially with those nations which have serious drug problems and which are working with us in the effort to control drug sources and prevent drug abuse. Our program will encompass training, research and technical assistance projects, including providing American experts as consultants.


We must vigorously enforce our laws against those who traffic in drugs, so that the attraction of large profits is outweighed by the risk of detection and the likelihood of conviction. The Federal Government's job is to deter, and where possible prevent entirely, illegal importation and major trafficking of controlled substances. Often large-scale financiers of the illegal drug trade never come into direct contact with drugs. Through the cooperative efforts of the various agencies involved, we will attack the financial resources of these traffickers who provide the capital needed to support the smuggling of drugs into the country. Drug traffickers must understand that they face swift, certain, and severe punishment; and our law enforcement and judicial systems must have the resources to make this prospect a very real threat. We must allocate our resources intelligently, revise our penalty structure where necessary to concentrate on the actions (and the drugs) that are most dangerous, and improve the administration of justice. Therefore:

• I am directing the Attorney General to intensify investigations of the link between organized crime and the drug traffic, and to recommend appropriate measures to be taken against these organizations.

• I am directing the Department of Justice in conjunction with the Departments of State and Treasury to study arrangements with other countries, consistent with Constitutional principles, to revoice the passports of known major traffickers, and to freeze assets accumulated in the illegal drug traffic.

• To ease the burden on the United States District Courts, which must hear major drug cases, I support legislation widening the jurisdiction of U.S. Magistrates under certain circumstances to include misdemeanor offenses which carry sentences of up to one year.

• In 18 United States Attorneys' Offices, special units devoted to the prosecution of major drug traffickers exist. The Department of Justice is now expanding this program to include additional units.

• I support legislation raising from $2,500 to $10,000 the value of property which can be seized and forfeited from drug violators by administrative action, including cash within the definition of seizable property. Amounts above this figure will continue to require court proceedings.

• I am directing my staff to recommend to me the appropriate Federal drug law enforcement role in the light of currently available resources--state, local and Federal. For nearly a decade, Federal support of state and local enforcement activity has steadily expanded. The time is ripe to evaluate the results of this effort, to determine whether federal participation should be altered, and to determine the proper division of responsibility between Federal and local officials. The Office of Drug Abuse Policy has already begun the first phase of this review, which includes consideration of border security and drug trafficking intelligence.

• I am directing the Attorney General to study the necessity for and constitutionality of proposals which would deny pre-trial release to certain persons charged with trafficking in drugs posing the greatest threat to health, and to give me his recommendations within 90 days. At the present time, some persons charged with major drug offenses can use their immense wealth to post bail and escape justice. If enactment of such proposals appears to be necessary and constitutional, their application should be tightly restricted and they should include a provision granting the accused an expedited trial.

• I am directing the Attorney General to review the adequacy of the penalties for major trafficking offenses and to give me his recommendations within 90 days.

• I also have considered requesting changes in the Tax Reform Act of 1976. Some of its provisions--such as those for disclosure and summonsing--were designed to protect the privacy of citizens but may also impede unnecessarily the investigation of narcotics trafficking cases. I am asking the appropriate Federal agencies to determine the difficulties these provisions present to effective law enforcement. If it appears they can be amended to improve law enforcement without infringing upon legitimate privacy interests, I will submit legislation to the Congress.


Marijuana continues to be an emotional and controversial issue. After four decades, efforts to discourage its use with stringent laws have still not been successful. More than 45 million Americans have tried marijuana and an estimated 11 million are regular users.

Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself; and where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use. We can, and should, continue to discourage the use of marijuana, but this can be done without defining the smoker as a criminal. States which have already removed criminal penalties for marijuana use, like Oregon and California, have not noted any significant increase in marijuana smoking. The National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse concluded five years ago that marijuana use should be decriminalized, and I believe it is time to implement those basic recommendations.

Therefore, I support legislation amending Federal law to eliminate all Federal criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana. This decriminalization is not legalization. It means only that the Federal penalty for possession would be reduced and a person would received a fine rather than a criminal penalty. Federal penalties for trafficking would remain in force and the states would remain free to adopt whatever laws they wish concerning the marijuana smoker.

I am especially concerned about the increasing levels of marijuana use, which may be particularly destructive to our youth. While there is certain evidence to date showing that the medical damage from marijuana use may be limited, we should be concerned that chronic intoxication with marijuana or any other drug may deplete productivity, causing people to lose interest in their social environment, their future, and other more constructive ways of filling their free time. In addition, driving while under the influence of marijuana can be very hazardous. I am, therefore, directing the Department of Transportation to expedite its study of the effects of marijuana use on the coordination and reflexes needed for safe driving.


My immediate objective will be to widen the scope and improve the effectiveness of Federal drug treatment programs. In conception and in practice, they have been too narrow. Drug addiction can be cured; but we must not only treat the immediate effects of the drugs, we must also provide adequate rehabilitation, including job training, to help the addict regain a productive role in society. In the past, Federal programs have given disproportionate attention to the heroin addict while neglecting those who are dependent on other drugs.

To improve the quality of Federal drug treatment, I am recommending these steps:

• In recognition of the devastating effects that certain nonopiate drugs can have if abused, I am directing the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare to expand resources devoted to care for abusers of barbiturates, amphetamines, and multiple drugs used in combination, including alcohol.

• To help drug abusers return to productive lives, I am directing the Secretary of Labor to identify all Federal employment assistance programs which can help former drug abusers and to give me, within 120 days, his recommendations for increasing the access of drug abusers to them.

• A sustained effort must be made to identify the reasons that people turn to drugs, including alcohol and cigarettes. We should seek more effective ways to make people aware of the health problems associated with such substances (particularly cigarettes and alcohol) and to respond in more constructive ways to the human and psychological needs they satisfy.


In the past, there has been no serious attempt to coordinate Federal research on opiates and alcohol despite the many similarities in the effects of these two drugs. A joint Federal research center might not only save money, but also lead to greater scientific understanding of addiction problems. Therefore I am directing the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare to study the feasibility of making the Addiction Research Center responsible for coordinated research on a variety of drugs, including opiates, alcohol, and tobacco.


Improved treatment and prevention programs should be accompanied by appropriate changes in Federal regulations, administrative practices, and enforcement, among which are these:

• First, I am recommending a conscious and deliberate increase in attention throughout the Federal Government to the problems related to the abuse of drugs that come originally from legitimate medical sources. Of particular concern are barbiturates, which despite their recognized medical use, are responsible for many deaths and are frequently used in suicide attempts. The withdrawal reaction of patients addicted to barbiturates can be more difficult and more dangerous than that associated with heroin withdrawal. They are frequently oversold, overprescribed, and overused. Therefore, I will:

--Instruct the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare to undertake a study of barbiturates and other sedative/ hypnotic drugs to determine the conditions under which they can be most safely used.

--Instruct the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, and the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs to review the prescribing practices of physicians under their jurisdiction, and to discourage the medical use of barbiturates and sedative/hypnotics except in cases where it is unmistakably justified.

--Continue the program, already begun at my direction, by which the Drug Enforcement Administration has instructed its regional offices and regulatory task forces to give priority attention to barbiturate cases. DEA has also begun to investigate the "street" market in order to determine the source of illegal supplies so that suitable Federal action may be taken. In the near future, DEA will conduct a special accelerated audit of the 120 companies lawfully manufacturing barbiturates in this country and will also notify foreign governments of our desire to see them control their barbiturate exports strictly.

• Second, I am directing the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare to review those sedative/hypnotic drugs particularly subject to abuse to determine whether any should be removed from the market, taking into consideration not only their safety to the individual but also the dangers they pose to the public at large.

• Third, I support legislation giving the Food & Drug Administration the authority to apply standards of safety and efficacy to all drugs, by repealing those laws which exempt a variety of drugs because they were placed on the market before a certain date. A number of barbiturates fit into this category.

• Fourth, Some physicians still knowingly overprescribe a wide variety of drugs. Although, as a result of careful education, physicians have voluntarily reduced their prescriptions for barbiturates by 73 percent during the last five years, a few are continuing to misprescribe these and other drugs deliberately. I am directing the Attorney General, in full cooperation with State officials, to begin a concerted drive to identify and prosecute these violators.

No government can completely protect its citizens from all harm not by legislation, or by regulation, or by medicine, or by advice. Drugs cannot be forced out of existence; they will be with us for as long as people find in them the relief or satisfaction they desire. But the harm caused by drug abuse can be reduced. We cannot talk in absolutes--that drug abuse will cease, that no more illegal drugs will cross our borders--because if we are honest with ourselves we know that is beyond our power. But we can bring together the resources of the Federal Government intelligently to protect our society and help those who suffer. The sufferers include the overwhelming majority of the public who never abuse drugs but for whom drug abuse poses the threat of broken families, a lost child or fear to walk the streets at night. Beyond that, we must understand why people seek the experience of drugs, and address ourselves to those reasons. For it is ultimately the strength of the American people, of our values and our society, that will determine whether we can put an end to drug abuse.


The White House,

August 2, 1977.

Jimmy Carter, Drug Abuse Message to the Congress. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/243653

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